In the style of an oral storyteller, bringing to mind the Greek classics in its deeds, I admit I was quite surprised by how good Elric of Melniboné was. It is not a question of an old book holding up in this case, rather Elric is obviously a pace setter that countless that follow can only hope to keep up with. If anything I have proven to myself that some of the classics of the genre are considered so for a reason; I will drop a minor heresy in that given a choice I would reread this title again anytime over any of Tolkien’s creations.
A man thrust into power that he doesn’t truly want but is determined to keep. Elric struggles with a type of morality at the head of a people who most certainly don’t; long time adherents to chaos gods are the people of Melnibone and years of unquestioned superiority has them holding their heads high. Yet Elric is not shining knight; anti-hero seems to be a common designation. He often does things that would be considered to have the moral highground; such as stupidly showing mercy on several occasions when none would be given to him. But his search for morality seems less about a care for people underneath and more about controlling his own life and steering a new path for Melnibone; long lost in its own arrogance.
Example? A inevitable sword fight comes to pass between two wielders of swords with minds (and desires) of their own. Mercy is not shown for mercy sakes, only to exert control over the sword’s bloodthirsty ways. Elric is a man who has no issue sending out his entire fleet to search for his own love; nor to use his own wounded veterans for his own purposes despite sending them to almost certain death.
Knowing nothing going in but reputation I expected a darker run; more barbarian sword play than games of royal succession. So consider me pleasantly surprised on this front. With his albinism and reliance on a cocktail of drugs to keep his strength he is considered weak by his own people; a race completely sure of their superiority and unsure of the weak blood they perceive Elric to have. (I am unsure at this point if the people of Melnibone are a different race than the people of the ‘younger kingdoms’ or if it is a racial superiority complex they are exhibiting. It is interesting, disturbing, and probably best left to be answered by those who study the author in more depth).
I mention a similarity to Greek classics partial because of the direct involvement of gods; Elric is both guided and saved by beings of greater power than even his own considerable sorceries. But he also feels like a hero of the old ballads. He isn’t perfect but is certainly larger than life. Toss in visuals of ships grounded by petty infighting between high beings and an entire golden fleet and I think my comparison is apt (and no doubt should I start digging I could find pages and pages proving that none of my ideas are all that original).
Perhaps at its most interesting when dealing with memory; in Elricverse apparently a curse and a weapon. Elric has spent several lifetimes on a dreamers couch before taking the throne; giving him knowledge beyond his years. A mirror that steals and houses memories proves to be enough to take over small nation; the consequences of it possibly breaking are too dire to consider. Or a man trapped in another realm for wanted to know everything; and is now stuck there until he forgets it all.
I am left in a strange spot in the end. Though obviously setting up a longer tale I feel oddly comfortable with where this book ends. I enjoyed it, quite a bit actually, but I am unsure if I possess the desire to move on in the story.
A note on the audio; it was interesting. The narrator had the perfect voice for the tone and his pacing was superb. He also switched between characters effectively but subtly; no falsettos for the woman’s voices or the like. It was backed with a musical score throughout which at first I thought might be distracting but ended up kind of digging. So, more musical scores behind my fantasy please!